This article comes from Entrepreneur.
The American workforce is more independent than ever. According to a recent report, the 41 million people who work as consultants, freelancers, contractors, temps, or on-call workers collectively generated $1.28 trillion of revenue for the U.S.
Millennials, specifically those over 26 years of age, are the largest segment of this independent workforce, and more of them are choosing to pursue that path full-time. Many are even opting for solopreneurship—establishing and running their businesses alone, with no intention of adding staff.
As millennials continue to displace baby boomers in the labor force, the nature of work in the U.S. will further reflect their working preferences and norms. Here are some of the structural forces and personal factors explaining why running your own business has never been more popular or viable.
Millennials are the first generation to grow up in a networked world, and their digital fluency is not only changing how they work, but how the world works. Millennials use technology and social media to find work (nearly 40 percent say they use online talent marketplaces), run their businesses, and collaborate with other solopreneurs on projects.
Working from home has become a priority as well. More than 80 percent of full-time independent workers report working remotely at least some of the time, a preference that is altering norms around working hours and office requirements. The rise of platforms and digital marketplaces is making it easier for solopreneurs to provide goods and services to customers no matter where they’re based.
Then there are the digital nomads: people who travel and work from wherever there’s a Wi-Fi signal. Working out of the office—whether that’s in a coffee shop, public library, co-working space, or a beach in Bali—is a lifestyle choice that appeals to many millennials, who prioritize experiences over owning things.
Autonomy and flexibility on the job are increasingly attractive to workers of all ages, but none more so than millennials. “Millennials have a different sense of work-life balance than their parents,” says Lu Ann Reeb, director of entrepreneurial studies and business studies at Emerson College. “They’re working to live, not living to work.”
Reeb says nearly all of her students say their No. 1 reason for embracing entrepreneurship or solopreneurship is that they don’t want to work for anyone else. Somewhat paradoxically, the flexibility of independent work has made many solopreneurs feel more stable. More than half of full-time independent workers say they’re more secure as independents than at a traditional job, and 70 percent say they have no plans to alter their career path.
“They want to have control over their own destiny a little bit more,” Reeb says. “When you have employees, there’s a huge pressure to be sustainable. As a solopreneur, it’s just you, and while you don’t want to dip, people aren’t depending on you to pay their rent or put food on the table.”
Reeb notes that an increasing number of millennials cite social factors for starting their own businesses. For many, it’s not all about profit: they value real meaning in their work.
“Millennials want to figure out how to improve things in our everyday world,” Reeb says. “I think it’s a rebound from seeing big companies create products without any consideration for the harm they cause. They feel the need to solve it. And there’s more funding for social entrepreneurship than ever before, so the opportunity exists.”
For millennials, the allure of working independently is mostly about how it aligns with their self-perception, how it allows them to live, and how it makes them feel. Eighty-two percent of full-time independent workers say they are happier working on their own, and 69 percent say it is better for their health.
Money, of course, is always a factor and working independently gives you the option of eventually making more money. The desire to make more money drives many millennials into the independent workforce, perhaps by starting a side hustle that blossoms into a full-time solo gig.
“For many millennial workers, freelancing is a natural progression,” Reeb says. “The structure of work continues to evolve, and I don’t think there’s any going back to the days of big companies, 9-5 working hours, a paycheck every two weeks, and full benefits.”
A growing network of online programs, products, and services for everything from billing to project management is making life easier for digitally savvy workers. However, there’s one crucial component of running a business that has historically been difficult for solopreneurs: securing insurance coverage for healthcare, including vision.
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